Halloween isn't canceled, but COVID-19 health risks should keep the holiday celebration at a minimum this year in Austin.
At least that is what Austin public health officials are asking as COVID-19 cases likely increase, based on recent modeling predictions. The city is averaging about 100 cases per day, down significantly from the summer spike, but the rolling 14-day averages show an overall increase in COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions and ventilator usage, according to Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority.
"Cases are on the rise, and Halloween is just around the corner," Escott said. "If we do not want to have Thanksgiving in a period of crisis, we've got to really tamp down our activity for Halloween."
This comes after several weeks of being "in a plateau," he said, potentially giving fatigued Austin residents false hope that it is now safe to resume normal activities. On the contrary, Escott warns that actions taken in the coming days and weeks will influence health conditions by late November during the holiday season.
"That's just the new way of life for us, at least at this stage," he said.
Austin health officials, including Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden, acknowledged that months of quarantine measures have exhausted Austinites, but the same safety measures still apply: social distance, wear masks, wash your hands, stay home if you're not feeling well and quarantine and get tested if you've been exposed to COVID-19.
Concerns are exacerbated as the influenza season kicks off. Austin already has documented flu cases, APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette said, making it all the more important that residents get their flu vaccination. Seasonal flu patients took up most of the hospital ICU capacity last year, according to health officials.
- Oct. 24: Southeast Library, 5803 Nuckols Crossing Road (8 a.m. to noon)
- Walk-up flu shots on a first-come, first-served basis
- Nov. 7: Travis County Expo Center, 7311 Decker Lane (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
- Drive-thru flu shots, with appointments recommended
- Call APH Immunizations at 512-972-5520 to schedule an appointment
Despite concerns about rising COVID-19 and flu cases, Escott and the rest of the public health team insisted that in-person voting is still safe. In fact, Escott voted earlier in the day and considered the experience safe at every step.
"The risk of transmission is extremely low for in-person voting," Escott said. "(Voters) should feel confident in those safety procedures at their polling place."
Similarly, normal school activities also pose a low health risk. Most cases recorded in school settings have been isolated to social events outside of school or during extracurricular activities.
"Football programs, in particular, is where we have seen that situation develop over the past couple of weeks," Escott said.
It's important that anyone exposed or sick stay home the entirety of their 14-day quarantine period, health officials urged, or risk more dire circumstances by November. New hospital admissions are just below 20 per day currently, about halfway to stricter Stage 4 restrictions, which haven't been in place since late July.
"My hope is that in November on Thanksgiving that I was wrong about what I said today," Escott said. "I hope we don't see the rise that's predicted. But the only way that's going to happen is if we change our behavior."
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Republic Square Park has turned into a Ford-themed fiesta for its Built to Connect pop-up experience, complete with test drives, off-roading and an inside look at the Tesla-rivaling electric vehicles that the motor vehicle company is planning to integrate over the next decade.
The outdoor driving event is free, open to the public and will stay in the park from now until Oct. 24, offering rides on Bronco Mountain, a 0-40 mph zip in the 2022 all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning and a chance to win an original Ford Bronco.
The event kicked off with a panel of speakers, including Austin Director of Transportation Rob Spillar, Ford General Manager Darren Palmer and engineering specialists discussing Ford's goals to make it so that 50% of the vehicles on the road are electric by 2030.
As an eco-conscious city, Spillar said that around 4,000 vehicles, or 22% of the Texas electric vehicle market, as well as over 15,000 plugins lie in Austin, meaning driving electric just got accessible.
"Austin, as you know, is a fast-growing modern city that is committed to protecting the long term health and viability of our communities and strategies that reduce greenhouse gases, mitigate the effects of climate change and improve the drone quality of life here in Central Texas for all of our residents," Spillar said.
And Ford's electric vehicles are putting up some steep competition for newly-Austin-based company Tesla. The new electric Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lighting offer amenities that used to be exclusive to Musk's brand, such as the BlueCruise self-driving network. The cars also boast a 300-mile range on a single charge, assisted reverse technology and access to the biggest charging network outside of the home.
Plus, Ford's got affordability on its side. The F-150 Lightning starts at $39,974 and the Mustang Mach-E starts at $42,895, while the cheapest Tesla model, the Model 3, starts at $41,990 and averages 262 miles on a single charge.
Speaking of price, the numbers on the electric vehicles may look like a little more than you'd like to pay for your transport, but Palmer promises it will pay off. In addition to a $7,500 tax credit you can earn for your sustainability, you'll never have to buy a pricey tank of gas again.
"Personally, I have not found one customer ever, who would go back to gas so that says something," Palmer said. "I realized, at $51,000, that car outruns every childhood hero car I ever had."
Texas buyers: take note. The Ford Lightning can power your house for three to 10 days, just in case the statewide power grid fails. You can take it glamping with you, so you don't have to leave the comfort of modern life behind, and in a pinch, Palmer said he's even seen a wedding party powered by the truck.
Ford is investing $30 billion into the U.S. market to meet demand by 2025 and the new electric truck already has over 150,000 reservations.
"I think they're going to take off much faster than you expect—they're going to be extremely, extremely popular next year," Palmer said. "With the incentives that are available today, this is starting to become more mainstream and viable for more and more families. We couldn't have done that before, we didn't have the technology, or the technology at that price."
The event is ongoing through next weekend from 12-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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The Austin Police Department is searching for a man who is believed to be behind a series of robberies that is "sexual in nature and is escalating."
Three robbery cases that took place in North Austin within a 30-day period are being investigated by police, who report the victims all had similar descriptions for suspects in the case. The suspect is described as a 20-25-year-old Spanish-speaking Hispanic man, approximately 5'3, thin build, recently shaved with black hair. Police say he is known to typically wear athletic clothing and used a knife on each of the victims.
Here's a breakdown of the cases:
1. At 7:56 a.m. on Sept. 22 at the 1600 block of Rutland Drive, a woman was walking alone and returning from her child's school when a suspect walking by inappropriately touched her. The suspect then grabbed her by the arm, threatened her with a knife and demanded "her property."
2. At 8:10 a.m. on Oct. 11 at 1700 block of Colony Creek Drive, a woman was walking to her child's school when a man approached her with a knife and then demanded her personal items. The suspect then said he would return the items in return for sex.
3. At 11:03 a.m. on Oct. 13 at the 9300 block of Northgate Boulevard, a woman was with her child in the laundry room of an apartment complex when a man walked in performing a sexual act. The suspect demanded personal items from the victim, threatening to hurt the victim and take her child.
Police cautioned the public to walk without earbuds, stay alert and report suspicious activity to the police.
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